Volume I : The Flood
Chapter 23 – A Premordial Religion[2001 words]
“Travelling with a cat and making food for it first, you must be an Ejyptian, aren’t you?” Metatro asked Amon over dinner. With golden-brown, short, curly hair, pale skin, white, neat teeth and a prominent nose, he would be considered a handsome man in most girls’ eyes.
“Why is a man who makes food for a cat first an Ejyptian?” Amon asked him back.
“The Ejyptians adore cats. They regard them as the incarnation of the gods. So they worship them like they worship the gods. You are not one of them?” Metatro was astonished when he found out that his savior was so young. But Amon did not introduce himself to Metatro.
Amon smiled, “This cat is a friend of one of my senior friends. He told me to look after it. But I am from Ejypt. My name is Amon. I’ve been learning magic since I was young, but I’m just a second-level mage. You said that you’re from Bablon City. Why are you here in the most remote mountains of Hittite?” Amon had showed him his mastery of magic since it was an emergency, so he just pretended to be a mage from Ejypt. Anyway, Metatro could not verify his identity.
“Hittite? We are in Bablon!……Or maybe I’m wrong. There are no signs in these mountains. To tell you the truth, my great-grandfather was a mage too. But he lost his life long ago in the war. I came here to look for his remains. Esteemed mage, why would you come to this remote place?”
His words triggered something in Amon’s memory. He startled for a second then answered, “I came here for a similar purpose. A high priest lost an object here and he ordered me to find it, saying that it was a test.”
Metatro blurted out, “Sending a b…a young mage here, did you offend him? Oh, I do not mean to offend you…It’s just a random thought.”
Amon waved his hand to tell him that he did not mind, “I’m being chastened. I have done something wrong so I have to make it up.”
“Usually, a high priest wouldn’t hike through the mountains and forests to get here. He must have lost something when he was flying. If you’re sure that this is the place, I can ask some people to help you.”
“Ask some people to help me? What people? Aren’t you looking for your ancestor’s remains yourself as well?”
“I’ve been searching here and there several times now. In the process, I happened to befriend the largest cavemen tribe here. They are the ones who know this place best. I can ask them to help you find the thing you are looking for.”
“The cavemen? You’ve contacted them? Then, what happened to you today? Why were you teasing the Ironbacks in that pool? I’ve never seen Ironbacks that big.”
Metatro answered embarrassedly, “Though I failed to find my great-grandfather’s remains, I became familiar with the dwarfs here and started trading with them since I needed money to support my explorations. They have some of the best refined iron ingots I’ve ever seen! Oh, I’ve always considered here as a part of Bablon, so technically I wasn’t smuggling, or was I?”
Refined iron was under strict control in every country on this continent. Personal trading of iron was more or less illegal. But that was not Amon’s business. He asked, “So you are here to find the ore sand? You want to refine iron yourself?”
Metatro startled, “Aren’t you here for the first time? How do you know that there’s good ore sand here?”
Amon shrugged his shoulders and said, “It’s the first time I’ve come here. But I knew that the best ore sand can be found in the Ironbacks’ excrement!”
Amon’s words sent Metatro into a daze, his expression became weird in the bonfire. After a while, he sweared in a small voice and said, “So the best iron ore for [Damasc iron] comes from the Ironbacks’ excrement! That damn old wretch wasn’t telling me that!”
“Oh so you don’t know that! Then what did he tell you?”
Metatro answered bitterly, “The tribes here have the best iron ingots, much better than the iron in Bablon. We call it Damasc iron. Even a small piece of it can cost a decent fortune. But they don’t have much of it. I asked the headman if he could get more, and he told me that the ore sand was too hard to get. He told me that there was a pool in the mountains with the best Damasc ore sand in the mud, but it was occupied by a King Ironback, so it would be very dangerous to get the mud there, and his fellows did not want to do it.”
“I thought that as an advanced warrior, it should be fine for me to tackle a King Ironback. So I came here without telling them. I wanted to kill that beast to show my power to those dwarfs, but that old wretch didn’t tell me that there were four of them! Nor did he tell me that the ore sand was actually their excrement. I would have lost my life here if you hadn’t saved me.”
Amon laughed. He laughed so badly that Metatro laughed too. The loud laughter echoed in the mountains. Even Schrodinger opened its sleeping eyes and looked at them querulously, as if saying, “What are you laughing at? What a shame!”
The next day, Amon started his journey to higher places again, stick in hand and Schrodinger in his bag, led by Metatro. Though he was not planning to ask the cavemen to help him find Bair, it was always useful to know more of the unusual things in the mountains.
The clouds surrounding the mountains looked like seas from afar, but became thick fog when they got closer. Amon was about to cross the third layer of clouds when he suddenly heard something ahead. He paused, and said, “There seems to be something in front of us, Metatro. Did you hear the sounds? It’s not an animal, but footsteps.”
Metatro jumped over a big rock and gazed ahead. After a while, he shouted, “Lynk! You old wretch! Come here!……You almost killed me! I’m going to beat the crap out of you!”
A group of people showed up at a turning point ahead of Amon; the man in front was the “old wretch”. He looked like he was in his thirties. His skin was dark, but compared to the others, he was pale. He wore clothes made of animal skins and his feet had straw sandals, the others were barefoot. He was the headman of his tribe.
Lynk came forward and said, “You misunderstood me, my dear friend! I heard that you went to the King Ironback’s pool last night, but it was too dark! I came to rescue you with my bravemen once the sun rose!”
There were about thirty “bravemen” behind Lynk, some of them with crude bows and arrows, and others with wooden rods tipped by iron spearheads. Several men had a thin iron rod each with one side sharpened as a blade. They were all middle-sized, but Lynk said that they were the strongest “bravemen” in his tribe. So the tallest cavemen was about the average size of a grown Ducian. There was a reason that they were called the dwarfs.
Metatro jumped off the rock and pretended to take a swing at Lynk with the sheath, “You wanted to find me in the Ironbacks’ stomach? You said there was only one, and I met four!”
“Ah??” Lynk’s mouth opened wide, fending with his stick. The stick was made by some kind of bone, with a parangon in it, like a mage’s staff.
He looked Metatro from head to foot and said, “And you came back alive? You left too soon yesterday. I hadn’t finished talking! And I already told you many times not to go! You didn’t meet the King Ironback, you met the big ones. The king only come out late at night……But, four big ones! Are you alright?”
Metatro took out a five-inch yellow sharp hook from his pocket. That was his “trophy”, the claw he sliced off the Ironbacks yesterday. He ostentatiously shook it in front of the cavemen, “Look at this! With the help of a noble mage, I cut this from that beast!”
The cavemen sighed in admiration. Lynk looked at the claw and asked, “Mage? What is a mage? Is he your friend?”
Metatro answered complacently, “He’s not just a friend. He saved my life. You, ignorant old wretch, haven’t heard of mages, have you? He is much more powerful than you with your little tricks!”
Amon came out from behind the rock. These cavemen had not heard of mages, so he didn‘t need to lie again. The cavemen knew him as Metatro’s friend and invited him to their tribe.
The cavemen lived in a gentle slope under a small cliff. There were many natural caves in the wall, which were carved into living rooms. A bonfire was set in the largest cave and people gathered wood every day to keep it burning. It was the common fire source for the whole tribe.
Although the dwarfs knew how to use the firestone, fire was a symbol of the tribe. The large cave with fire was like the shrines in the cities. The open field in front of the cave was a square to gather the tribe. On a slope not far away, were also houses built with wood and hay, with dried mud on the walls. Simple yet solid.
The ones living in the houses were the seniors. Metatro seemed to be quite respected because they had a house for him. As his friend, Amon lived in this house too.
At sunset, the tribe gathered. A group of people danced around a woodpile in the open field, passing the claw cut by Metatro and imitating all kinds of chopping and cutting movements as if they had cut it down by themselves. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the ceremony.
Amon and Metatro, the bravemen who fought with the big ones, sat in the middle with Lynk as honored guests. Metatro whispered to Amon, “This is their happiest hour in the day. They’ll ignite the woodpile then dance till the fire dies.”
Amon whispered, “What are they doing with that claw? They seem to be drunk.”
“It’s a ceremony”, answered Metatro, “They imagine that they have the strength to kill the beast, which gives them faith and courage so they won’t be afraid in future hunts and will succeed. It’s a kind of sorcery.”
The sky went dark when they talked. A dwarf took a branch to get the fire from the big cave, so as to ignite the woodpile. Amon suddenly recalled one thing from the Crazy’Ole’s last message. He stood up with his staff and pointed at the woodpile.
A wind whirled around the center of the woodpile, breeding a spark. The spark spinned into a thread of fire in the wind, then a jumping tongue of fire, licking the lumbers and starting a bonfire. A simplest fire summoning magic with the help of air magic, created a wonderful effect.
The dancing cavemen stopped, the ones sitting around the woodpile stood up, then Amon saw all of them prostrated towards him on the ground. He could see the reverence and fear in their face. Lynk prostrated too. Amon could hear him mumbling, “Gods’ emissary, thank you for bringing us warmth and light!”
Seeing all the people prostrating, Metatro stood up and bowed to Amon, blinking his eyes and whispering, “Nice trick! Too bad I’m not a mage, otherwise I would have done this long ago.”
[List of characters]
Lynk: The headman of a cavemen tribe. Being the equivalent of a priest in the tribe, he knew a bit of rudimentary magic.